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'The Seventies': CNN rehashes, doesn't reassess the decade

President Richard Nixon says goodbye outside the White

President Richard Nixon says goodbye outside the White House Aug. 9, 1974, as he prepares to board a helicopter for a flight to nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Photo Credit: AP / Bob Daugherty

DOCUMENTARY SERIES "The Seventies"

WHEN | WHERE Starts Thursday night at 9 on CNN

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The sequel to the Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Mark Herzog docu-series, "The Sixties," this eight-parter begins with the decade in television. Interviews include Norman Lear, LeVar Burton ("Roots"), Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Mike Farrell, Garry Marshall and Hanks. Subsequent episodes cover: Watergate, Vietnam, cults and crime, the rise of Ronald Reagan, the battle of the sexes, roots of terrorism and music.

MY SAY Like "The Sixties," this production has no interest in rocking the boat or sinking the boat for that matter, either: The '70s were the '70s -- this essentially argues -- with the outlines well-established, and the histories already written. Close your eyes tightly and try to remember what stood out most, and chances are good this documentary will have found either the sound bite or the clip that goes with that memory.

As a result, this can sometimes be an exercise in rehashing as opposed to reassessment. That's fine for viewers looking for flashbacks, but not necessarily for those seeking a deeper understanding or re-examination of this decade, and its lessons for our own.

Thursday night's opener, for example, tells you absolutely nothing you don't already know about '70s TV, and arguably a whole lot less than you do know -- unless you were born after the '70s, in which case the TV landscape of that long-distant era probably seems as exotic or quaint as the silent-film era looks to the rest of us. As a primer, it's fine. As explanatory history, it's on weaker footing.

"The Seventies," however, gets better when the story gets stronger, or at least more resonant. Heavily clip-dependent, the next two episodes of "The Seventies" -- on Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War -- are in fact themselves the story of television over the early part of the decade. As televised tragedies, they even contained among the most resonant images of the last half-century.

BOTTOM LINE Straight ahead, and unvarnished. Good as primers, not as deep dives.

GRADE B-

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